University of Strathclyde is developing technology which could see tiny LED lights delivering "WiFi-like" internet connections.

The university is promoting its “Li-Fi” system which sees internet connections supported by visible light rather than via the radio waves and microwaves currently in use.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is funding a consortium of UK universities, led by Strathclyde, to develop the technology.

Professor Martin Dawson, of Strathclyde, who is leading the four-year project, said: “Imagine an LED array beside a motorway helping to light the road, displaying the latest traffic updates and transmitting internet information wirelessly to passengers’ laptops, netbooks and smartphones.

"This is the kind of extraordinary, energy-saving parallelism that we believe our pioneering technology could deliver.”
The universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford and St Andrews are all working with Strathclyde on the project, said Dawson.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) flicker on and off thousands of times a second. By altering the length of the flickers, said Dawson, it is possible to send digital information to specially-adapted PCs and other electronic devices, making Li-Fi the "digital equivalent of Morse Code", he said.

The EPSRC-funded team is developing tiny, micron-sized LEDs. These LEDs are able to flicker on and off 1,000 times quicker than larger LEDs, meaning they can transmit data more quickly.

Dawson said 1,000 micron-sized LEDs would fit into the space occupied by a single larger 1mm-squared LED, with each of these tiny LEDs acting as a separate communication channel.

A 1mm-squared sized array of micron-sized LEDs could therefore communicate "1,000 x 1,000" - in other words, one million times as much information as one 1mm-squared LED.